At the end of the 2002 season, the Brewers hired Doug Melvin as general manager. He had previously been the general manager of the Texas Rangers for eight years before spending 2002 as a consultant with the Red Sox.
When Doug Melvin came on board, the Brewers roster in 2002 had a starting lineup of Paul Bako, Richie Sexon, Eric Young, Jose Hernandez, Tyler Houston, Geoff Jenkins, Alex Sanchez and Jeffrey Hammonds. The starting rotation was a 23-year-old Ben Sheets, Glendon Rusch, Ruben Quevedo, Jamey Wright and Nick Neugebauer.
That team lost 106 games. And the future wasn't exactly looking brighter, either, with their 2002 top-10 prospects being:
1. Nick Neugebauer
2. Bill Hall
3. Dave Krynzel
4. Mike Jones
5. Christian Guerrero
6. Ben Hendrickson
7. JJ Hardy
8. Jose Mieses
9. J.M. Gold
10. Matt Childers
The Brewers hadn't had a winning season in a decade. They hadn't been to the playoffs since 1982. They had a nice, new stadium, but a team that wasn't close to winning anything in that stadium. So they hired Doug Melvin.
In Melvin's third year as General Manager, the Brewers broke their losing-season streak with an 81-81 record in 2005. Two years later, they had their first winning season since 1992 and came close to making the post-season before a late collapse took them out of contention. In 2008, the Brewers made the playoffs. In 2011, the Brewers made the playoffs again, and were a couple games from a World Series berth. Since 2005, the Brewers have won 80+ games seven times, and have more or less been a constant post-season threat for the last decade.
After Melvin took over, the Brewers drafted Rickie Weeks, Yovani Gallardo, Lorenzo Cain, Ryan Braun, Michael Brantley, Jeremy Jeffress, Jonathan Lucroy, Brett Lawrie, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Fiers, Khris Davis, Scooter Gennett, Jimmy Nelson, Taylor Jungmann and so many more. Internationally, the Brewers have made big splashes like Alcides Escobar and Wily Peralta and have opened the checkbooks up even more by bringing in guys like Gilbert Lara.
Under Melvin, the Brewers traded Richie Sexson in a move that helped turn the franchise around. They acquired Carlos Gomez. They picked up CC Sabathia at a crucial time. They traded for Zack Greinke. They signed players like Aramis Ramirez and Jeff Suppan and Matt Garza to free agent deals that wouldn't have happened in previous regimes. They signed Carlos Gomez and Ben Sheets and Jonathan Lucroy to extremely reasonable extensions. They got an MVP player to sign what looks like a life-long contract with the Brewers.
Melvin also became adept at picking up players off of waivers -- players others were willing to throw away, Melvin and the Brewers turned into strong starters. Guys like Scott Podsednik and Casey McGehee.
Doug Melvin wasn't always perfect. The Carlos Lee/Nelson Cruz trade was maybe his worst trade with the Brewers. But if that's his worst, that's really not so bad. He also had a lot of help -- those big-money deals wouldn't be possible if Mark Attanasio wasn't willing to spend, those strong drafts had a ton on input from then-scouting director Jack Zduriencik and Bruce Seid. Gord Ash as assistant GM certainly had plenty of thoughts on things. Plenty of other personnel along the way. But at the forefront was Melvin.
And he turned this team around. Melvin took a team that had nothing going for it except a new stadium and made them a wining franchise. Now that they're on a downturn, he made moves to ensure the team is in a good place to rebuild quickly. Over the past couple years, he's taken a farm system that had become bare from trades and call-ups and made them into perhaps a top-10 system again. If the Brewers compete again in a few years, the groundwork for that has been laid by Melvin.
We pretty much expected this to be Doug Melvin's last season as general manager of the Brewers. A lot of people are glad about that. That's disappointing, because I think Melvin deserves a lot more praise than he's received. He may not have always made the moves that others would want to see, but in the end he made the Brewers competitive. Yes, they're in the cellar now, but it would be extraordinarily difficult to keep the Brewers a competitive team for longer than the decade they were without a hitch along the way. Look how long it took the Brewers to even have a non-losing season before Melvin came aboard. A decade of a good baseball team is a feat, no matter how you get there.
And it's not like Melvin is leaving the team in as dire of straits as they were when he took over. They have a core of Jimmy Nelson, Wily Peralta, Jonathan Lucroy and Ryan Braun, along with solid players like Khris Davis, Jean Segura, Scooter Gennett, Taylor Jungmann and others. They also have what now looks to be a very good group of prospects that will start to see major league time over the next few years. The Brewers aren't a good major league team right now, but they're in a good place to build for the future.
So thank you Doug Melvin, for making the Brewers a winning team again, and thank you for putting them in a solid place to build back up in the next few years. If Milwaukee's next general manager is as good, we'll be pretty lucky.